Tale of Two Sisters, A (2003) Review

"A Tale of Two Sisters" Korean Theatrical Poster

"A Tale of Two Sisters" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Kim Ji Woon (Kim Ji Wun)
Writer: Kim Ji Woon (Kim Ji Wun)
Producer: Oh Gi-Min, Oh Jeong-Wan
Cast: Im Su-Jeong, Mun Geun-Yeong, Yeom Jeong-A, Kim Gap-Su, Park Mi-Hyeon, Wu Gi-Hong, Lee Seung-Bi
Running Time: 115 min.

By JJ Hatfield

A Tale of Two Sisters is a finely crafted work of art from the skilled hands of Kim Jee-woon. Kim not only directed the film but wrote the screen play as well. This is beautiful and imaginative in a very subdued fashion. It is also a film that will scare the hell out of you, more than once.

Opening the film is a brief scene in a hospital. Though a doctor asks questions the viewer wants to know this is just the beginning of the mystery. There are no simple explanations and the answers do not come easily if they come at all.

We see the two young sisters being driven home by their father. No mention is made of the previous scene and the girls seem just like any other sisters. They slowly pull into an isolated lakeside house in the country. It’s a gorgeous sunny day and the girls run towards the lake, ignoring their father who calls them to the house. Just like any two slightly mischievous young sisters. They are not just sisters but also best friends.

I am purposefully avoiding much of the plot and events in A Tale of Two Sisters. There is simply no way to be in depth without spoilers, and this film, if any film should not have spoilers.

It really wouldn’t help for the viewer to know as different people perceive this in various ways. Ignore those who say they “have the movie figured out”. There are multiple layers in this complex story.

The father is distant, the stepmother chilly and sharp tongued. The sisters are virtually inseparable with Su-mi being the oldest acting as protector for Su-yeon. The sisters are on the screen the majority of the time. Sometimes it is difficult to tell which sister it is for a fraction of a second. At times they could be any other sisters anywhere, but odd incidents have a way of turning into terrifying experiences.

This film will pull you in and make you part of it. Tension rising subtly, almost undetectable at first. Further along your heartbeat slightly increases – you have already become involved in a personal way, you are right there with the characters, a part of the mystery.

This is a taught psychological thriller that will keep you thinking about it for a long time. It is a woven film tapestry of the human mind and behaviors. From tension to anxiousness to suffocating the viewer will feel it all.

The cinematography is absolutely excellent from a sunshine filled day to a flash of… something. Lee Mo-gae was the cinematographer and he definitely has a great eye for how to set up a scene.

This film will keep you on the edge of your seat, sometimes even holding your breath. As the film progresses you see more and more small little areas of the house and it works as a symbol for the increasingly complex and even sometimes confusing story. The tension mounts until your throat feels dry and you have a definite urge to look behind you!

This is one hell of a scary movie!

Though not a horror film with chain saws and buckets of blood this film delivers over and over again. Not just a few scenes but the entire film is a work of art and a fine example of how to keep the viewer not only interested but tight muscled as the tension increases.

The cast does an excellent job, especially Su-mi (Lim Su-jeong). The original music by Lee Byung-woo is absolutely perfect for this great film. The score adds much to the feel of uneasiness.

It’s nearly impossible to translate what you are experiencing in to a nice labeled box. The entire film is subject to interpretation. People eventually decide what to make of A Tale of Two Sisters but don’t worry too much about those (did I just see…?) moments. Some will be explained – some will not. It’s a mandatory re-watch so you can focus more on the story line and just watch the first time.

The film is loosely inspired by the Korean folk tale, “Janghwa, Hongryeon”. This is not a spoiler because there is no similarity in the story line. Plus I doubt many have read or seen numerous films supposedly based on the mythology, all different except for the (reviewer spits) ripmake I won’t even mention.

Kudos to Kim Jee-woon, the wonderful actors and great crew!

A fantastic, mesmerizing film that is a must see!

JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 9.5/10

By Monkey Goddess

Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect of this movie, aside from the fact that it had a favourable write-up and that it was recommended by a friend who said to check it out. After watching it, I am glad I got a chance to catch this excellent Korean movie.

The movie focuses in on two sisters who arrive home from the hospital to greet their stepmother. As the movie progresses, it is revealed that the sisters do not like their stepmother at all and are very much against what she says and does, especially the older sister Su-mi. The stepmother can also sense this based on their behaviour and attitude. In retaliation, she turns against them (at one point, she tells the sisters’ father that they bring her misery).

Although it is slow moving at times, there are several scenes that will jolt you out of your seat and are quite horrifying, to say the least. These scenes were especially striking due to the accompanying strings evoking horror and fright. From my experience watching this movie (which was at a film festival), it was a bit difficult to understand certain scenes, and I might have to watch it again just to understand completely what it was all about. Overall, there was good chemistry between all the actors, especially Im Soo-Jung and Moon Geun-Young, who portrayed the two sisters. Regarding the actress who played the evil stepmother (as someone mentioned on a website review), Yeom Jeong-Ah is definitely the Asian equivalent of Glenn Close; very menacing, and not very likeable. Lastly, I would have liked to have seen Kim Gap-Su, the father, appear in more scenes, but as this movie is mainly about the relationship between the mother and her two stepdaughters, I understood the small role presented.

Monkey Goddess’ Rating: 8.5/10

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About JJ Hatfield

i like movies
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5 Responses to Tale of Two Sisters, A (2003) Review

  1. Great movie! Kim Ji Woon is the master. Like QT, he’s able to to tackle different genre films and come out successful each time! JJ – check out I Saw The Devil =D

    • JJ Hatfield says:

      Kim Ji-woon is an amazing director. As you say he has tackled all types of films with equal skill and success! Can’t wait to see “I Saw The Devil”!

  2. JR says:

    Spooky, Scary Movie. I will need to watch this film many times, and I not sure that will help me to understand all the scenes. Several versions of realty and it is hard to tell which one that scene is…maybe more than one at a time. All the actors and the direction make this an excellent scary movie. My personal favorite:Little fake blood, and the scariest scenes are ones where the tension is purely psychological.

    • JJ Hatfield says:

      I find the psychological terror sometimes far more horrifying than a buckets o’ blood drenched production. With this movie you get enough blood to be “realistic” depending on the scene and what is happening in the movie.

      The acting was excellent and Kim Ji-woon is continually amazing, his movies are getting better, not that it makes any of his work bad. It is rare to find a director who can compare favorably the more films he makes!

      I also want to point out again that he used a long ago written folklore from Korean history as inspiration. The various versions are all very different and none have any real similarity. The cool thing is Kim Ji-woon didn’t have to say a word and no one would have ever known. However he made it quite clear whenever speaking of the film. Oh, if only that kind of integrity could be found more often.


  3. Arthur says:

    This is one of the films that motivated me to go to film school to become a filmmaker. “A Tale of Two Sisters” is a horror film and psychological terror film fan’s dream. Powerful performances, psychological trauma, some very creepy scenes, incredible lighting, haunting soundtrack, impending doom, feelings of dread; so forget the remake. This film is in my Top 10 of All-Time. 10/10.

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